in , , ,

Recreating Guardiola’s Tactics in FM21 – Part 2

Guardiola's Tactics Part 2

In our previous article, we talked about the history of Pep Guardiola’s tactics and the 4-3-3 tiki taka tactic he utilized at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City. In this installment, we will explore the 3-4-3 tactic he has used more recently at Manchester City.

Part 1 –

This of course has roots at Barcelona as well when Pep was a player. Johan Cruyff developed a similar 3-4-3 when he was Barca’s manager. In Guardiola’s tactics it’s slightly different but contains most of the core principles.

Cruyff’s system

Under Cruyff’s system, he would have a midfielder drop deeper when defending against two strikers in a 4-4-2 formation. Then when the ball was won back, that midfielder would rejoin the midfield, and drag the opposing striker out of position, further reducing the opposition’s numbers in attack. In attack, rather than playing a narrow 3-4-3 diamond, he would play with two attacking wingers. Depending on who was playing in the middle, he would also play with a single striker, an attacking midfielder, or a false nine.

In Guardiola’s tactics against sides with two strikers, Guardiola would add a defender in the middle to give himself a numerical advantage — three centre backs against two strikers, instead of allowing the opposition to play 1 v 1 against his two centre backs. Using a third centre back also adds an additional passing option when playing out of the back, allowing the team to transition from defense to attack more easily. Then, with inverted wing backs running into the channels to join the forward 3, he would overload the opposition in their own half — ensuring his team has multiple passing options in the final third, through both numbers and fluidity of movement off the ball.

The Tactic - Guardiola's Tactics

Centre Halves – Guardiola’s Tactics

There are a couple options at centre half that we need to consider. The middle player can play as a Libero and you need to determine if you want this player to be your normal Defensive Midfielder, who is often better dribbling and passing, or a Ball-Playing Defender. It can be either, but often I will use a Defensive Midfielder in this situation. It all depends on the attributes of the player.

The Libero - Guardiola's Tactics

Full Backs – Guardiola’s Tactics

The Full backs in Pep’s system are much more offensive and would bomb forward to join the attack. At Barcelona they mostly played wider. However at Bayern and City, these full backs were often inverted. They would cut inside the wingers into the channels as Inverted Wing Backs.

At Manchester City however, Kyle Walker can play in two ways in the back 3 formation. He can join the defense to form the back three with the two centre halves, something we’ve also seen him do with England. Or, he can play as an Inverted Wing Back, tucking inside and getting forward to augment the attack with his great pace. The advantage that Manchester City currently has is that most players can play multiple positions, allowing for tactical fluidity within any one particular shape.

The Inverted Wing Backs - Guardiola's Tactics

The Defensive Midfielder – Guardiola’s Tactics

The Defensive Midfield position is the lynchpin in many of Guardiola’s formations. In the back 3 formation, the Defensive Midfielder would often drop deep, acting similar to a Libero, opening himself up for a pass. This also drags any opposition players trying to mark him out of position, which in turn creates space for his teammates to exploit, supporting the transition from attack to defense and maintaining possession dominance.

Depending on what you want to do with your Full Backs, if the Full Backs are covering in defense, that allows the Defensive Midfielder to play further forward. He can receive the ball from defense further up the pitch and use creative passing to start attacking plays. This all depends on how you want to play and the strengths of the defensive midfield you have at your disposal.

Fernandinho the Defensive Midfielder/Libero - Guardiola's Tactics

Attacking Midfield – Guardiola’s Tactics

The other midfield positions are occupied by a so-called ‘free 8’ and this is partnered usually with a Box to Box Midfielder. The free 8 is normally the Kevin De Bruyne role at Manchester City, and one that is difficult to replicate in Football Manager. How do we give this role the freedom it needs?

You will see De Bruyne receive the ball in the middle of the park, go out wide to receive the ball in a full back position, run forward and join the attack through the channels, and often times ending up as the striker. You even see him lurk outside the area in certain scenarios hitting shots from there after receiving a cut back pass from the wingers to score goals.

For me, in the 3-4-3, this role is best recreated by the Mezzala on Support. However, it is difficult to get them to drop deep enough to help the transition in the midfield and receive passes out wide. However, with a combination of player instructions (e.g., Roam from Position, Runs into the Channels, Get Further Forward), you begin to simulate what the player needs to do. Maybe SI Games will think of creative ways to replicate this role better in future versions.

The Free 8 Kevin De Bruyne - Guardiola's Tactics
Kevin De Bruyne Player Instructions - Guardiola's Tactics

The Box to Box role is the supportive, workhorse role in the midfield partnership. Despite the depth and breadth of talent Man City has in the midfield, the partnership needs to be symbiotic. This player can’t be bombing forward all the time like the other central midfielder, because the team would be exposed in the midfield, leading to counter attacks from the opposition.

Attackers – Guardiola’s Tactics

In Attack, it’s largely the same as the 4-3-3 formation. Various roles will work, depending on which players you have available to you and the quality in your squad — Inside Forward, Advanced Playmaker, False Nine or Deep Lying Forward or even a Complete Forward. City have immense quality, which allows Guardiola to play in a very flexible, and beautiful way.

The Advanced Playmaker - Guardiola's Tactics

Each of these roles can maintain possession in an attack built around quick short passes. They will also make incisive, aggressive runs and decisions, and be clinical in front of goal. Your League Two side may struggle if you ask them to do too much (due to lower mental and technical attributes), so even though you can probably make a 3-4-3 formation work in the lower divisions, you will likely need to keep player instructions fairly simple in comparison and put players in the positions that can succeed in. No square pegs in round holes.


There is some debate as to whether the Man City formation is truly a 3-4-3 or if it’s some sort of assymmetrical hybrid in certain situations. 3-3-2-2? 5-2-3? It’s all about the flexibility of the system, rooted in Cruyff’s ideas of the diamond in the middle.

Like Guardiola, you could have multiple versions of this tactic depending on the opposition you’re up against.  For example, one with one of the wing backs playing in defense, and another with the Defensive Midfielder in defense. It’s entirely up to you and how you think your team will succeed.

Here is a great breakdown on the SI forums, written after the tragic passing of Johan Cruyff:.

Please follow us @ Dictate The Game’s Facebook and Dictate The Game’s Twitter


Leave a Reply
    • I didn’t play a complete season with either of these tactics. I was really just trying to replicate the movement and style of play we see in real life with Pep’s tactics. I could try to simulate a season with each tactic, but even that is not necessarily an accurate test. He uses these formations at will depending on the game situation and personnel he has available to him. If I played through an entire season I would make different decisions based on my opinion of what’s happening in the game. Sometimes playing the 4-3-3 and sometimes playing the 3-4-3. As would anyone else. Also what comes into play is the training regimen, injuries, player transfers, academy prospects at your disposal to name a few.

      I would just say try them out yourself and see what works and what doesn’t for your particular squad. There’s no real silver bullet tactic in Football Manager in my experience, just different formations that suit different teams based on the players they have. It’s our job as managers to make everything work and hum along successfully. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Total Football Journeyman: Building Effective Partnerships in FM21

Because No Good Story Starts With A Glass Of Milk